Aviators round out 2020 squad with beloved local star CoCo Vandeweghe
As she enters her eleventh World TeamTennis season, CoCo Vandeweghe is a true veteran. However, even though she’s playing a fourth consecutive year for the Aviators, this is the first time she’s committed to San Diego for every match. “I haven’t done a full season since I think was like 18!” marvels Vandeweghe, who’s previously played for Sacramento, Boston, Orange County, and Philadelphia franchises. The change in this year’s format to hold the entire WTT season at The Greenbrier in West Virginia in response to the COVID-19 pandemic was the catalyst. “It’s an all-or-nothing thing, so if you can’t play the full season, you don’t get to play. So that wasn’t an option, as well as—I have been doing nothing, and there’s nothing to do, so let’s go play! I’m ready! I want to play,” she says.
It’s been a long time away from the rigors of the tour for Vandeweghe, who says she hasn’t stepped into an airplane since before March. “I’ve been very much at home, living that life. Normally, I haven’t been home since May, which is very weird,” she says. While she misses the competition, she adds, “I’ve also gained a lot from being home. I can’t remember the last time I experienced ‘June gloom’ in San Diego. As silly as that is, it’s nice to be home at the same time.”
After an ankle injury at Wimbledon in 2018 plagued Vandeweghe for the better part of a year, she was finally able to return to play last summer, including a winning singles turn against the Philadelphia Freedoms’ Taylor Townsend last July for the Aviators. This break brings an altogether different challenge—one that’s not isolated to only Vandeweghe, but all the players who’ve been sidelined since the suspension of the tour. “I’ve been back training in the gym and with my coach, Craig [Kardon], and it’s been very taxing on my body, even though I have been training at home and doing kind of a home gym life and practicing where I can,” she says. “It’s very different to be back under a controlled regimen and my body is sore, that’s for sure. It’s a good sore, but it’s like ‘Oh, this hurts to sit down!’”
Despite, or maybe because of, being away from the game for so long, she says of the upcoming WTT season, “I think everyone is going to bring their A game no matter what.” That “everyone” includes superstars like Venus Williams, Bob and Mike Bryan, Sloane Stephens, Sam Querrey, Madison Keys, Frances Tiafoe, and Sofia Kenin, among so many other legends and World TeamTennis stars. But it also includes her own teammates, three of whom (Ryan Harrison, Nicole Melichar, and Vandeweghe herself), are Grand Slam doubles champions, fellow Olympian and Fed Cup teammate Christina McHale, and British doubles specialist dynamo Jonny O’Mara, who will return for a second season with the Aviators. “He’s a wild man!” laughs Vandeweghe.
The stats aren’t the whole story though, as Vandeweghe is quick to add. “[The team] definitely knows how to play with each other on the doubles court and mixed doubles court,” she says. “I think everyone is super comfortable with each other, and that makes the world go ‘round in a team sport. If you’re comfortable with your teammates, it definitely works in your favor.” That camaraderie extends to Coach John Lloyd, who she calls “a great tennis mind,” as well. “Our coach has to keep us all in check,” she says, joking that he’ll “tell us the same stories over and over again and we’ll still keep laughing at them.”
Vandeweghe is confident with the measures WTT is taking to ensure the safety and health of the players, including regular testing. “Our venue is right there where we play, our hotel is right there, all our meals are right there, so I think the precautions are as safe as they possibly can be,” she says, though she admits there’s still an element of risk in the travel that is required to get there.
However, she is very outspoken about current plans to proceed with the US Open. “From the get-go I didn’t think it was conducive for us players to play. I didn’t think it was fair. Not everyone can travel and leave their country, and that means it’s not an ‘open’ tournament. It’s tough for me to support a decision of not having everyone be free and able to play,” she says. “I know this might be our ‘new norm,’ but …it’s not going to be the same and that’s where I’m kind of stuck. There’s no qualifying—that’s definitely hurting us as far as the players and their fina
nces and how much the lower ranked players are hurting. They won’t have an opportunity to earn any money. It’s just a very tough sell for me right now.”
The US Open is currently slated to play without fans; the WTT season will be played in front of a maximum of 500 spectators per match—roughly 20 percent capacity at The Greenbrier, and one-third of Omni La Costa’s capacity crowds during the Aviators’ regular season. Still, it’s a rarity for fans of any sport to attend a live sports event stateside, and with fans being such an integral part of the energy that defines World TeamTennis, it’s a unique opportunity for both players and spectators.
“I am definitely about the tennis environment having people there, having people to watch. I think that brings the atmosphere to tennis,” says Vandeweghe. “It’s going to be fun but it’s going to be just different. I think we’ll get used to it and it will be enjoyable to be able to experience that feeling again and the pressure and excitement and the disappointment and everything that comes along with sports.”